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Myanmar is stepping cautious against China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) projects. In the recent months, Myanmar has demonstrated its resistance to China. China is trying to deepen its influence on Naypyidaw through the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) for long days. It appears that Myanmar’s Ministers in the civilian government have started projecting their reservations against the Chinese investment in Myanmar.
Proposed CMEC will start from China’s Yunnan province. It is located near Qunming close to China-Myanmar border. The corridor will head towards Mandalay, Myanmar’s former royal capital on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. From there, it will extend towards the east and west towards Yangon and the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone.
Recently China and Myanmar signed two agreements as a part of CMEC. One is about construction of Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port (KDSP). Second is about setting up a the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Kyaukphyu.
Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port (KDSP)
Chinese are hoping that, Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port will lower their dependence on the Straits of Malacca. Strait of Malacca is China’s main trade artery, which links the Indian and the Pacific oceans. Chinese are desperate to reduce their over-reliance on the strait which is militarily dominated by the US.
The Kyaukphyu Deep Sea Port is also crucial for China’s energy security.The port houses an oil and gas pipeline, supplying energy to Yunnan. China is targeting a massive investment of around $100 billion in Myanmar’s economy.
It is not yet clear but it seems that Myanmar is taking time to take decision. Possibly they are considering the experience of neighbors related to Chinese debt trap strategy. Myanmar’s ministers in civilian government have drawn lessons from experiences of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives. In these countries projects funded by China have pushed them into debt trap and increased Beijing’s influence.
U Set Aung is the deputy minister of planning and finance and chairman of the Kyaukphyu SEZ Management Committee. He has openly warned against falling into the Chinese “debt trap”. He has stressed that Chinese projects must have commercial viability and benefit Myanmar
The minister has successfully negotiated reduction in the size and cost of the Kyaukphyu project. The Chinese-funded port is now $1.3 billion in scope from the initial $7.2 billion.
U Bo Bo Nge, the Central Bank deputy governor also nailed the strains in the Beijing-Naypyidaw relationship. He pointed out that Myanmar had to “go along with China to some extent”, but, in the end, this was a “hated marriage”.
Myanmar government led by de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is showing signs of standing up to China. China has proposed 38 projects under CMEC but Myanmar so far has approved only nine. Since last year Myanmar has decided that it will only implement the projects that will be mutually beneficial. Moreover, Myanmar continues to suspend the construction of Myitsone Dam. The proposed $3.6-billion dam is one of seven hydropower projects planned for the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River.
It is to be mentioned that the project work of Myitsone dam started in 2009. The then President U Thein Sein suspended it in 2011 amid widespread public concern over the dam’s social and environmental impacts.